A note on customer excellence for MSPs

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Your customer service is the backbone of your IT managed services business. The way you deliver that customer service is a true reflection of your brand, and it is critical to get it exactly right. The question though is how to define what customer service really means. Many would define it as fast, friendly responses to customer requests. I would argue that “fast and friendly” is just not setting the bar high enough.

Fast, friendly service?

Is there an MSP out there that does not claim to have the fastest response times? How about one that does not say they provide friendly service? Is there an MSP that does not stress their commitment to excellence? We can probably agree that these are “table stakes'' and that nobody should be in a service business of any type if they are not willing to make these commitments.

But this is not nearly enough to differentiate your services. And more to the point — fast, friendly response is of little use if it does not solve your clients’ problems. No matter how fast your response, no matter how friendly you are, customer service ultimately comes down to efficacy above all else. Delivering that truly excellent customer service depends upon perfecting your processes, practices, and your company culture.

Processes.

MSPs that want to grow always strive to build businesses that are scalable and systematized. That means truly consistent processes and procedures. On one level, that means standardizing our offerings across sites and controlling “vendor creep.” We choose our best-of-breed firewall, endpoint protection and, BCDR solutions and stick with them. And then we learn to optimize deployment, monitoring, and support of those solutions.

Rinse and repeat.

We also learn to proliferate this standardization to the greatest extent we can, across as much of our “stack” as we can. This also means building great procedures that can be implemented with simple checklists. Whether we are configuring a Domain Controller, adding a new user, or cleaning our buildings, we start and finish with checklists.Practices.When we discover an issue at a site that is driven by a design decision or a mistake, I always ask my staff three questions:

  1. Is this new resolution documented?
  2. Can we determine the root cause?
  3. Should we implement this resolution proactively at our other sites?

We try to learn from our mistakes and create practices that prevent them from recurring. (I have a sign in our shop that reads “New Mistakes Only.”) What I am driving at here is that having processes is not enough (though you must start there). You must practice those procedures.

Processes must become practices that you execute upon, or they are never going to improve your service delivery. That is why every checklist finishes with the admonition to update and verify that very checklist.

Company culture.

But what happens when there is no process, procedure, or checklist to fall back on (which probably happens to all of us at least weekly)? No matter how many checklists and procedures you have, you will never be able to cover every eventuality. Sometimes your only recourse is to work without an existing process; just wing it perhaps under pressure. (Think of that great scene in Apollo 13 when they had to literally fit a square filter in a round hole.)

Just as one’s character can be described as how one behaves when nobody is seeing, culture can be thought of as how your employees behave in the absence of a practice or procedure. This is where your company’s culture comes to the fore, and this is the very essence of customer service. This is what can truly set you above the fray as a business.

Beyond fast to truly effective.

Everyone can offer fast service. Everyone can offer caring service. But what can set your company apart is the ability to deliver capable and effective customer service. I would argue that no matter how fast you fix an issue if it continues to recur, the perception of your service will suffer.

To counter this, you must work with your staff to instill in them a desire to not only resolve problems as they occur but to prevent their recurrence. Encourage them to take the time to analyze root causes and work to prevent a recurrence. Encourage your staff to work through those fixes, to systematize and generalize fixes, so that you can become more proactive every day. And build a company culture that emphasizes truly effective problem resolution over all else.

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